This week marks the beginning of hurricane season, and with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting an “active to extremely active” season in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin, consumers need to prepare now to keep themselves–and their food–safe in the event of a hurricane.

hurricane-featured.jpgNOAA projections indicate a 70 percent probability of 14 to 23 named storms (storms with top winds of 39 mph or higher) and 8 to 14 hurricanes (storms with top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which 3 to 7 could be classified as major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5 with top winds of at least 111 mph) in the 2010 hurricane season.

“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, in a statement. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall.  In short, we urge everyone to be prepared.”

Keeping Food Safe During a Hurricane

Howard Seltzer, national education advisor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition shared the following advice for people living in hurricane zones on the “Keep Food Safe” blog Tuesday.  The same advice is good for people living anywhere a natural disaster could strike.

* Use appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. In case of a power outage, thermometers will help you determine if the food is safe. Freezer temperature should be 0 F or lower; the refrigerator should be 40 F or lower.

* Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. You can also use the melting ice as drinking water.

* Purchase or make ice cubes and freeze gel packs in advance for use in coolers.

* Check out local sources where you can buy dry ice and block ice, just in case.

* Store some bottled water where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.

If the Power Goes Out

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible

* A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep it closed.

* A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full)

* If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source.

For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that does not require adding water.  For concentrated or powdered formula, prepare with bottled rather than tap water.

When the Power Is Restored

* Check refrigerator and freezer thermometers. If the freezer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

* If you did not use a thermometer in the freezer, check each package. If the food still contains ice crystals, it is safe to refreeze or cook.

* Discard any perishable food that has been kept above 40 F for two hours or more.

Uncertainty and Predictability of Hurricanes

“The main uncertainty in this outlook is how much above normal the season will be. Whether or not we approach the high end of the predicted ranges depends partly on whether or not La Niña develops this summer,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “At present we are in a neutral state, but conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for La Niña to develop.”

Peak hurricane activity usually occurs in early August, but all federal agencies are preparing early. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate said FEMA is working with the Obama Administration and with state and local partners to prepare for hurricane season.  “But we can only be as prepared as the public, so it’s important that families and businesses in coastal communities take steps now to be ready,” he said.  “These include developing a communications plan, putting together a kit, and staying informed of the latest forecasts and local emergency plans. You can’t control when a hurricane or other emergency may happen, but you can make sure you’re ready.”

As Seltzer pointed out, “of all the natural disasters that we face in the United States, the only one that has its own clearly defined season is the hurricane.”

The American Red Cross provides a hurricane preparedness checklist and others on its Website.

Image:  Hurricane Katrina.  NOAA Satellite and Information Service Environmental Visualization Program, 2005.